Shutdown’s Little Details Say a Lot: Towpath, Parks Closed

Now we know how Cinderella felt—that is, before she put her foot in the right shoe.

When the clock struck midnight, we the people pretty much turned into pumpkins. The much dreaded, much-warned-about, much afeared, much debated U.S. government shutdown had occurred. After three attempts by the House of Representatives to get the Senate to accept three different attempts to do something , almost anything bad to Obamacare while also keeping the government open meant to create a budget agreement and avert a shutdown, the government did indeed shut down, although not totally, and hopefully, not for long and certainly not permanently. The Senate rejected—as promised—any budget agreement involving Obamacare.

Some early bicycle riders were off to work who knows where, the furloughed federals perhaps asleep in their beds, as well as the baby panda, although we could not be sure, the Panda cam having no one to monitor it, being part of the furloughed workers at the Smithsonian National Zoo, including many of its (and the country’s) national parks and museum. There was no tumult and shouting on the block.

There was in the Washington Post—”SHUTDOWN,” the front page screamed—”Congress stuck in funding stalemate.”

By dawn’s early light, a city full of disappointed tourists and workers. The other side, plus a rundown on the fate of federal agencies, federal workers—some 700,000 furloughed nationally, local impact (you know the drill) and key dates, all inside. None of which quite matched the pungency and awful impact of the New York Daily News front page with a photo illustration of House Speaker John Boehner—who did not have his finest hour(s) during the political wars leading up to the shutdown—sitting at the Lincoln Memorial with the headline: “HOUSE OF TURDS.”

Be all that as it may, the shutdown—which will be even more partial with the planned legislation to restore help for veterans and keeping bigger national parks (but not the Panda cam and zoo and museums) open—will haves its impact locally. The longer it goes on, the bigger the impact on the local tourist industry in the city, not to mention the absence of furloughed workers, costs that some predict to be in the hundreds of millions on a daily basis. It should be remembered that the last major government shutdown over which President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich sparred and presided last three weeks.

The city will continue to function and operate, as promised by Mayor Vincent Gray, who has declared city workers as essential, defying federal rules. Gray promised to go to jail rather than relent. That means trash will be picked up and other city services will continue to be provided. On the bright side, it will feel like a weekend without tourists, or park rangers, which is to say only modestly crowded. You might even find a legal parking space. But illegal spaces will still be ticketed.

Another thing that did happen: Ford Theater’s planned opening night for “The Laramie Project”, the high-profile play about the murder of a gay man in Wyoming and its aftermath, had to be moved to the rehearsal space of the downtown Woolly Mammoth Theatre, a mostly-for-press opening because theater officials were informed today that all-stage productions in the building would not be allowed to continue until the shutdown ends, because the theater is funded partially by the federal agency.

While the big news of the federal government shutdown Oct. 1 is that non-essential government workers stay home, the shutdown also affects the minor things of everyday living: like going to the theater, jogging along the towpath in Georgetown or visiting the Jefferson Memorial.

While most essential federal services continue, such as the military, police, fire, U.S. mail, schools, Social Security and disability benefits, food stamps, planes and trains, Metrobus and Metrorail, tickets from speed cameras.

What is closed? The U.S. Capitol except for members, Smithsonian buildings (hope you did not have a party planned there today or tomorrow) and all national parks across America. No National Gallery of Art, no National Zoo. No applications for Social Security and several other programs.

You see, Ford’s Theatre is closed because it is part of the National Park Service as is the C&O Canal National Park which runs through Georgetown near the Potomac. And so is Georgetown Waterfront Park, where the fountain is turned off at Wisconsin Avenue and K, that intersection named Charles Percy Plaza. (Sen. Percy from Illinois would be most disappointed at his Republican Party.)

Even the nearby Kennedy Center, part private and public, has cancelled tours but continues its performances along with the box office, restaurants, parking being open. It opens at 5 p.m. but stated: “Due to the government shutdown, the Kennedy Center’s public hours will be curtailed. However, all performances will go on as scheduled and the Box Office, the Gift Shops, the Roof Terrace Restaurant, KC Café, parking, and the Metro shuttle will be operating. Building tours will not be available.”

There is not much space to launch a canoe. Along with others, the Key Bridge Boathouse is closed, as access to the Potomac River along Georgetown is National Park Service land.

An email from Mike Nardolilli, president of the C&O Canal Trust, had this news alert:

“As you may be aware, our Federal Government has shut down for an indeterminate amount of time. What you may not have realized, however, is that the closure of the Federal Government means the closure of the C&O Canal National Historical Park and all other National Parks. For the C&O Canal, this means:


• Visitor traffic, whether on foot, bike, or horse, is strictly prohibited.

• Bicyclists planning rides from Pittsburgh to DC on the GAP and C&O Canal should plan to turn back at Cumberland.

• All Visitors Centers are CLOSED.

• Hiker/Bikers and campgrounds are CLOSED.

• The Canal Quarters lockhouses are CLOSED.

• All restroom facilities, both permanent and portable, are CLOSED.

• Handles have been removed from all well pumps.

• The only Park staff that will be on duty will be law enforcement rangers.

• The portion of the Capital Crescent Trail that runs parallel to the towpath in DC is managed by the C&O Canal NHP and is CLOSED.

• All access roads to the Park are CLOSED. This means you will not be able to trailer boats to boat ramps along the towpath.

• Interpretive and educational programming in the Park will be temporarily suspended. School field trips to the Park will need to be rescheduled once Park staff has returned.

• Volunteer events and events requiring special use permits will not be able to take place.

• All volunteers working in an official capacity should cease volunteer activities immediately and not enter the Park’s premises.

After working side-by-side with the wonderful staff of the C&O Canal NHP for many years, it’s heartbreaking for the Trust to see them closing the doors, given no choice but to turn away thousands upon thousands of visitors seeking to recreate and rejuvenate along the canal’s towpath.

While the Park staff has no choice but to stand idly by, we as civilians can take action:

• Educate yourself and others on how the shutdown affects National Parks.

• Be vocal on social media and use #KeepParksOpen.

• Use any means of communication you can – letter, email, phone call, social media, or even a carrier pigeon – to appeal to Congress. Find your US Representatives and Senators on the National Park’s Conservation Association’s Legislative Lookup.

• Send notes of encouragement to the Park staff through our Facebook, Twitter, and email. To say this is a rough time for them is an understatement. We’ll forward your notes on and post them on social media, letting our Park Rangers know how much we appreciate them and are anxiously awaiting their return.

• Last but certainly not least, respect the closure. While we don’t like it one bit, we have to respect it. Disregarding the closure can create potentially unsafe and hazardous situations, damage Park resources, and create undue work and stress on the few staff left standing.”

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